Applying to an MBA program is a lengthy process that involves multiple steps and numerous requirements. Some parts of the process are relatively simple, such as academic transcripts or test score submissions.
Other parts are more complex and require more from you, such as the MBA essay(s) that you’ll likely have to submit. Of course, every bit of information you include in your application is vitally important because your application will be considered in its entirety before any decisions regarding your candidacy are made.
However, certain portions of your application may hold more weight than others. There is no doubt that grades are important, and having a high GPA or an exceptional GMAT score certainly helps improve your chances of acceptance.
Yet, numbers don’t leave much room for standing out, which is necessary when considering the sheer amount of applications MBA admissions committees have to sort through. However, writing an outstanding MBA personal statement is your chance to do precisely that.
An exceptionally well-written personal statement could be the gateway to your success and could land your name on a shortlist for an interview invitation to the business school of your choice, getting you that much closer to an acceptance to a future MBA program.
On the other hand, “An essay that reveals any weakness in your candidacy could quickly put you in the reject pile,” so the stakes are high when you get to this point in your application. To learn more about where you should start, how you can ensure that your MBA personal statement makes you stand out, and what kinds of things you should avoid writing about - read on.
What is an MBA Personal Statement?
An MBA personal statement introduces you to the school’s admissions committee that you’re applying to. It is also an opportunity for you to show them what you could potentially contribute to the community that exists at their school.
For most schools, your chance to write a personal statement comes with your responses to the MBA essay questions. Each school has its own requirements when it comes to the MBA essay. There is only one essay prompt for some schools, and for others, there are multiple questions that you must answer.
Similarly, some schools have word requirements that limit either the minimum or maximum word count that you can use for your answers, whereas others provide the question and let you decide how much to contribute.
Although each school has topics they typically like to cover, many schools change their questions from year-to-year, but some general themes tend to reoccur quite often in these kinds of prompts. One theme that often comes up has to do with your interest in the school or how you envision yourself fitting into the school’s program.
For example, the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania requests their applicants to answer “What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA?” They also ask “how do you plan to make specific, meaningful contributions to the Wharton community?”
Other schools are more interested in the theme of self-reflection. The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, for example, wants to learn “more about you outside of the office,” and they request that you take their essay as an “opportunity to tell us [them] something about who you are.”
For many schools, the theme of goals and ambitions is a popular topic. At NYU Stern, they ask applicants, “What are your short and long-term career goals?” and “how will the MBA help you achieve them?”Another major theme shared by many schools is that of leadership.
Berkeley Haas requires that applicants consider how “the definition of successful leadership has evolved over the last decade and will continue to change,” and they’re interested in knowing “What do you need to develop to become a successful leader?” Although some schools branch away from these general subjects, these themes tend to be the most common, so the chances are good that you may have to write about one or more of these topics in your MBA personal statement.
Top Tips on Writing an Outstanding MBA Personal Statement
Focus on the Question
You’re going to want to keep in mind several things while you’re writing your MBA personal statement. One of the things is that you maintain a steady focus on the actual question(s) asked throughout your essay. Of course, the questions are often very open-ended and allow you to answer them in a variety of ways.
Once you’ve chosen a path, try your best to stick with it and continuously remind yourself of the task at hand, so you can question whether you’re straying too far from what you’re trying to write about. Staying on topic and focusing on the question at hand will also help prevent you from wasting space and time on irrelevant information.
Although the admissions committee probably doesn’t have a distinct black and white answer to the question that they’re asking, they are still looking for an answer, so make sure that you’re not just providing them with an autobiography.
Writing about your strengths and experiences is still necessary, so make sure you cover any relevant strengths and experiences in accordance with the theme and question. Although admissions committees are generally interested in applicants who write unique content, it is important to avoid getting too far off track with your MBA personal statement. There is still a question at hand to answer, with directions that must be followed, so don’t write about whatever you please.
Show Your Passion
A good, compelling MBA personal statement is chalked full of passion. If you let your passion shine through in every line, you’re bound to grab the attention of the admissions committee that reads your application. No business school is interested in an applicant that lacks passion and enthusiasm.
The main goal of each school is to fill their cohort with future leaders, who are passionate and driven to succeed. Let them know what kind of business goals you have in mind and give them an idea of your ultimate ambitions. Whether you want to create a startup, start a nonprofit, or even move up within the ranks of the company that you’re already working for, let the admissions committee in on how you view your future in the business world.
With that said, make sure it's overtly clear why that envisioned future has ignited a passion inside of you that has pushed you to apply for an MBA program. Ensure that you go back to the source of your ambitions and give them an idea of where your passion originally stemmed from. Doing this will help them understand your aspirations better, and it will also give them a better overall understanding of who you are at your core.
Get to Know the School
It should also be evident in your MBA personal statement that you’ve invested time into getting to know the school that you’re applying to. Schools differ from each other in varying ways, and each of their MBA programs have distinct features that set them apart from one another.
If you can demonstrate an understanding of the school’s missions, values, and goals in your personal statement, it will let the admissions committee know that you’ve done your research. Knowing these things will also help you tailor your MBA personal statement to meet some of the school’s criteria.
Once you know the goals of a school, you can detail various ways that you’re capable of contributing to them. Once you know their values, you can show them various traits, which you possess, that align with those values. Once you know what their mission is, you can highlight ways in which your mission is similar.
Of course, it isn’t necessary to reflect every single virtue that the school values in your MBA personal statement, but if you’re able to make enough of these connections between yourself and the school, they’ll see that you’re a good fit for a future cohort, increasing your chances of acceptance into one of their programs.
Let the admissions committee know why you feel their MBA program is the best fit for you. If you can think of some specific things that their program provides, such as experiential learning or internships, mention why these opportunities excite you. Additionally, if a particular member of their faculty or a specific course interests you, explain where your appeal is coming from.
There are many ways for you to gain more information about a school that will be useful during this portion of your personal statement. You can check out the school’s website, reach out to department heads, look into previous or current students’ profiles, look at the school’s online forums and social media groups, and even attend their events scheduled for prospective students.
Highlight Your Leadership Qualities
Upon closer inspection of some business school websites, it will be apparent that most of them value leadership above all else. Essentially, all business schools are looking to fill their cohorts with students who will become global leaders in the future.
If you can show a school’s admissions committee that you have leadership qualities and that you have the potential to be a great leader, it will undoubtedly pique their interest in you. The best way to do this is by providing an insight into your motivations, strengths, and capabilities by emphasizing experiences that you’ve had, which present you as a proactive person who takes charge of the situations.
You don’t need to describe some grand situation where you made a global impact. However, if you’ve taken the initiative to lead a local fundraiser, or you’ve started a club and led them to a set goal, these are the kinds of experiences that are worth mentioning because they will portray you as a leader.
Back-Up Your Claims
It is of vital importance that you don’t merely tell admissions why you’re a good fit for their school, or that you’re a strong leader, or that you have what it takes to make it in the world of business. Instead, you must show them all of these things by backing up your claims with examples.
Your claims will feel empty and baseless if you don’t have real-life examples to back them up. Rather than telling a school how resourceful or imaginative you are, tell them an anecdotal story that helps them independently draw this conclusion .
You can describe a situation when you made use of connections you have within your community to get something done that would benefit everyone or a time when you had to come up with a creative solution to a setback that you were facing.
Unlike general statements, stories are memorable and will be hard for admissions committees to forget about you if you tell them a story that shines a light on your best side. Keep your stories brief and to the point, but include the necessary details to illustrate the points you’re trying to make.
Mistakes to Avoid While Writing an MBA Personal Statement
Don’t be too Eager to Please
Many people make a common mistake when writing their MBA personal statement by focusing too much on writing exactly what they believe the committee wants to hear. In other words, trying too hard to please the admissions committee can sometimes have the opposite effect.
When taking on an MBA essay, if you write what you think the admissions committee is expecting, you’ll waste a perfect opportunity to show them your actual value to their program, and you’ll likely blend in with the rest of the applicants.
Each admissions committee has boxes that they are looking to tick, and the overall goal is for you to tick as many or all of those boxes as possible in a natural manner. If your aim is fitting the bill, it will be obvious and will detract from your chance to come across as unique.
It will also make for a dull and underwhelming MBA personal statement. Beyond fulfilling specific requirements, you should demonstrate that you have character. Don’t be afraid to break the mold, at times, if it will allow you to open up more and share something genuine about who you are.
Diversity is essential at any business school because diverse perspectives are what make a cohort attractive and interesting. So, think of how you can contribute to this diversity and embrace your authentic self when you craft your MBA personal statement.
Avoid Summarizing Your Résumé
By the time that an admissions committee gets to your MBA personal statement, the chances are good that they’ve already read through your résumé. Thus, there is no need for you to restate information directly from your résumé during your MBA personal statement.
The admissions committee has that information already, and you can trust that they will not forget it if it is worth remembering. By the time they get to your personal statement, they are craving something original and fresh.
The purpose of a résumé is to list your relevant experience, but the purpose of an MBA personal statement is to show why that experience matters and why it sets you apart from all the other applicants.
If you want your essay to be captivating, you must draw the admissions committee in with your storytelling skills. Use vivid descriptions to bring the stories that you’re telling to life and take the admissions committee on a journey that demands their attention.
No Need to Apologize
A general rule to keep in mind when writing your MBA personal statements is to avoid making any apologies. If there is a portion of your application that you aren’t feeling overly confident about, don’t draw attention to it.
It might feel like you must explain yourself, whether this means justifying a lower than average GPA or test score or why there is a gap in your employment.
However, your MBA personal statement is a limited opportunity for you to convince an admissions committee of your candidacy for their program, so spending time on things that don’t accentuate your best side is a waste of valuable time and words. Rather than apologizing for your potential downfalls, draw the admissions committee’s attention away from those parts of your application.
Give them a good reason to naturally forget those things by wowing them with an MBA personal statement that highlights all of the reasons you are the ideal choice for their next cohort. The only time it is acceptable to explain your shortcomings is if the essay question specifically asks about them.
Outstanding MBA Personal Statement Examples
Goals Essay Example
Essay 1: What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)
Prior to COVID, I dreamed of a future as an entrepreneur building on my mother’s example of using business to make a difference in local communities. 2020, however, afforded me the opportunity to simultaneously begin pursuing the impact I hoped to make, even without my own venture, by participating in [Name] and [Name] recruiting efforts, while pausing to reflect on those aspirations.
Though I would still like to build on my mother’s legacy of community-minded entrepreneurship, I believe I will be able to make the most direct impact by founding my own venture capital fund that incubates companies from seed to late stage. My three years at [Company] have helped me develop analytical and operational skills necessary to be a thoughtful founder, but a Wharton MBA will help me refine my leadership style, as well as help me adopt the mindset of a community-minded investor.
Sample Body Paragraph:
With a flexible core foundation, I will use my time at Wharton to focus on classes that will uniquely help me achieve my goal. As a double major in Business Economics and Public Policy and Entrepreneurship & Innovation, I will not only understand the best way to use business to improve a community with classes like “Urban Public Policy and Private Economic Development,” but I can also study different methods to bring solutions to life with classes like “Venture Capital and Entrepreneurial Management” and “Finance of Buyouts and Acquisitions.” Best of all, I can begin applying and practicing what I have learned in the classroom by working with the [Company] or spending a semester in [Place] with the robust [Community] in the [Area].
After graduating, I intend to be an active alumni, joining the Alumni Angel group, as well as serving as a mentor for Wharton students. Bolstered by my experiences inside and outside the classroom, I will be ready to make my mark on the Venture Capital world, bringing more equitable access to financial resources for entrepreneurs of color. When I do, I know that I will have the support of my Wharton community behind me.
Why it Works:
This is a fantastic sample of a MBA personal statement for many reasons. Firstly, the applicant doesn’t waste any time and gets right into an explanation of their personal goals and aspirations at the beginning of their essay, which then ties into a brief explanation of the source of their inspiration.
They also highlight their opportunistic nature by showing how they took advantage of the situation when COVID began. They consistently reference specific parts of the Wharton MBA program they’re interested in, such as some specific classes they intend to take. They also mention how they plan to use their experience at Wharton to make their dream a reality.
Contributions Essay Example
Essay 2: Taking into consideration your background – personal, professional, and/or academic – how do you plan to make specific, meaningful contributions to the Wharton community? (400 words)
While I may have a few years before launching my own fund to transform local communities, during my time at Wharton, I intend to be an active participant in Wharton’s Anti-Racism goals, fighting to bring equity and inclusion with the same passion I have brought to my office and B/LX network. I want to help usher in a new era at Wharton focused on today’s business concerns where diversity and inclusion are top of mind.
I plan to be an active member of whatever initiatives are formed with student involvement seeking to effect that change, such as the Wharton Graduate Association (WGA). As a member of the [Organization], I can work with my peers to network in our hometowns to increase [Ethnicity] participation in MBA programs, which has been historically under-represented, as well as welcome prospective students as a host during [Initiative], to ensure that all who are interested feel welcome the moment they approach this school.
Sample Body Paragraph:
I have learned through my work at [Company] that one needs to bring in allies to improve diversity - cultivating a strong affinity group is a start, but not enough. As a member of the [Group], I will support Wharton founders, specifically ones with social ventures addressing poverty and inequality in the greater [City] community, thus growing student-funded entrepreneurship with a social benefit. As a fellow, I will also be able to further hone my own sense of leadership to understand the best way to motivate people to prioritize community benefit.
When not focused on ventures and leadership, I plan to school fellow students in the Tennis Club, share meals with the Wharton Food Club, and continue bragging about California’s Cabernet Sauvignons to the Wine Club. I envision my Wharton experience moving beyond the classroom to build an alumni cohort to last a lifetime, supporting each other to overcome the challenges we will inevitably face as we become next generation leaders.
Why it Works:
This MBA personal statement is yet another strong sample. This applicant has clearly done their research and has discovered that they have a goal in common with the school they’re applying to. They focus on this shared goal and highlight how they intend to achieve progress towards it by working together with the school and its community.
They make sure to back up their claims with examples of relevant work experience that is in line with this vein of thought. Doing this demonstrates focus and shows that they are serious about their passions.
Their conclusion further reinstates the fact that they are familiar with what the school has to offer, and it also flushes their personality out a little more. It also helps the admissions committee to envision the applicant fitting into the school’s community in various ways.
Self Reflection Essay Example
Essay 3: As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?
Disability has always been close to home; my family and community have a long and painful history of degenerative disease. I often think of my uncle, who steadfastly refused to let others help him eat meals following a string of kidney surgeries, and to my grandfather, suffering from neurodegenerative decline, who would rather exert excruciating effort to walk up a flight of stairs than ask me to get reading glasses from his bedroom.
It dawned on me that a reliance on others to move through daily life slowly chips away at one’s humanity; that lost independence is a common denominator of disability, and it impacts people almost as meaningfully as the underlying medical condition does. While various technologies and medical subspecialties exist to ease physical suffering, there is woefully little out there aimed to mitigate this deeper psychological problem. What’s more, the data and tools to solve this issue do exist, but millions continue to suffer.
I’m driven by finding answers to the most complex, most challenging problems faced by humanity; the ones that are too daunting, or those that go unrecognized. I felt a moral obligation to intervene. What followed would help me discover my life’s mission – building AI-driven tech to improve healthcare.
Sample Body Paragraphs
I rallied a friend, and together we built an AI-driven, low-cost speech-recognition platform that enabled voice-activated control over electronic systems in a household, thus empowering individuals suffering from ALS and multiple sclerosis. It was an exercise in creativity and persistence. It was quite daunting at the outset - I still have scars from initial circuit prototypes exploding in my hand. But, in the end, our solution worked, and cost a fraction of a now commercially available solution like Alexa.
As I think back to my core questions of independence, disability, and the juxtaposition of
medical and psychological suffering, I see increased life expectancy as a testament to modern advances in medicine. I now want to start the conversation around ensuring that people like my uncle or grandfather live not just longer, but happier, more dignified lives.
In the long run, by proving the benefits of AI-driven healthcare to the world, I want to build an enterprise that not only continues to develop sophisticated technologies, solve complex medical challenges, and change lives, but also improves the underlying fabric of healthcare policy. Like Uber and Airbnb, my dream is to eventually create an organization that fundamentally shifts the contemporary regulatory paradigm in healthcare to one that evolves and appropriately reflects both the medical and psychological needs of the modern patient.
The more I study disability, disease, impairment, and their implications on the human psyche, the more I appreciate the power of community - the feeling that there are people who fearlessly stand with you as you look to defy the odds. As I look to achieve my life’s mission and create a better healthcare system, I can’t think of a stronger, more supportive, and more inspiring community than Harvard.
The general management toolkit, network, and leadership skills that I develop will stay with me long past my time at HBS. I am confident in finding co-founders, collaborators, and investors who are as passionate as I am about solving entrenched challenges in healthcare. I plan to engage in cross-disciplinary inquiry through the [Initiative], and strive to develop a deft understanding of the interplay between the business, policy, and technological aspects of healthcare, something made uniquely possible through close collaboration with HMS and HKS.
I am more inspired than ever to realize my dream of restoring the lives of millions who suffer through no fault of their own, and the Harvard MBA will enable me to achieve exactly that.
Why it Works:
This essay manages to take a very broad MBA essay question and turn it into a highly focused and genuine personal statement. The applicant doesn’t merely state their goals, but paints a delicate picture of their very personal inspirations that have become their driving force.
This MBA personal statement includes numerous details, while refraining from including irrelevant ones. Each part of the narrative that they’ve told is necessary and is carefully woven together to provide an accurate background of where their motivation stems from and how it has led them to apply to this school.
They also reference relevant achievements and experiences that they’ve had that indicate a strong sense of leadership within them, making them an attractive candidate for the school they’re applying to.
1. What is the purpose of an MBA personal statement?
The general purpose of an MBA personal statement is to show the admissions committee a little more about who you are and why they should consider your candidacy for their program. It is also a chance for you to show your goals and ambitions, while demonstrating how they pertain to the specific MBA program you’re applying to.
2. How long should an MBA personal statement be?
Some schools have specific minimum or maximum word counts for their essays, while others don’t. A school will typically list these kinds of requirements together with the essay questions.
3. What should I focus on with my MBA personal statement?
Your MBA personal statement should focus on answering the question(s) that the school has provided. These questions vary from school-to-school, but are usually found on the applications page of a school’s website, along with all of the other information relevant to your application. In conjunction with your answer to the prompt, you may focus on describing experiences, skills, and goals of yours that are relevant to the MBA program you’re applying to.
4. Should I write a different personal statement for each school that I apply to if I’m applying to multiple schools/programs?
Yes. Not only does each school have their own essay questions, but each school also has its own set of values, missions, and interests. Thus, your MBA personal statement isn’t easily transferable from one school’s application to another.
If you want to maximize your chances of getting accepted into a school’s MBA program, you must carefully craft a unique MBA personal statement for each school that you apply to.
5. What should I research before writing my MBA personal statement?
Some research into a school is necessary before you can begin writing an MBA personal statement to submit to them. You may want to research a school’s mission statement, curriculum, faculty, extracurricular activities, or other pertinent information related to their MBA program.
It will be necessary to reference these kinds of things throughout your MBA personal statement when you explain why this particular school is the best option for you and why you are the best fit for their next cohort.
6. Should I mention my GPA or GMAT/GRE scores in my MBA personal statement?
No. Your academic transcripts and test score submissions will be part of a different section of your application. The admissions committee does not need to see the same information in two places.
Use the MBA personal statement as an opportunity to improve your candidacy for the school’s program in fresh, new ways by discussing things that would not be possible to include in your transcripts or on your résumé.
Your MBA personal statement is a vital part of your MBA application, and, as such, it requires that you approach your writing process with careful consideration. Your personal statement is a significant opportunity to make a good impression on the admissions committee by showing them who you are and why you deserve a coveted spot in their program.
Plan out what you want to say, and take your time organizing exactly how you’d like to say it. Remember that every word counts, so make sure that you stay focused and don’t get off-topic. Once you’ve written an outstanding MBA personal statement that you feel packs a punch, proofread your essay, and, if possible, have others proofread it as well to ensure that there are no errors that will detract from the content.
You should also make sure that your writing conveys a sense of confidence, creativity, and passion. If you account for all of these things, and you let your true self shine through in your MBA personal statement, then there is no reason why an admissions committee wouldn’t be interested in having you join their next cohort of students.